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July 9, 2008 / calebdresser

Terror, from an Indian newstand – III

The words of a man recently returned from Kabul to Delhi echo in my head: “You must pardon me, but Americans are a very stupid people.” I nodded sadly at the time, thinking of a class in an Ivy League university where not a single student could find Afganistan on a map, but on reflection I must disagree. It is not a question of intelligence; it is a question of motivation and attitude, and it cuts across many cultures, albeit in different ways.

What many Americans lack in knowledge is made up for with free thinking and a willingness to challenge authority, something I did not really appreciate until I came here. I have met many people who can recite reams of information on many subjects, but have no real grasp of what it means; they are like the student who knows the Latin name of every plant and animal, but does not understand that without a wolf to eat the elk, they will over-graze the land and destroy its balance. Likewise, if a superior or senior person says something is so, they take it as fact rather than evaluate the information before accepting it. I think it has something to do with the educational system here, which is heavily focused on memorized information and high performance on written exams and standardized tests. Not all Indians are like this, of course – and not all Americans are uninformed.

I think the bar is perhaps higher or at least the scrutiny more intense for Americans precisely because our country has been so successful. Nonetheless, it behooves us to step up, for our own sakes as well as in the interests of others. Many eyes are watching from forgotten corners of far-off lands, as we gather riches and flaunt them before the world. The dancer in the center of the floor must bestow a smile on all, or they may become bitter and jealous. If I have learned anything in India, it is that as Americans we are born in the limelight of the world. Eyes are watching us. The fact that we pay attention to some of them only when they attempt to kill us might start to explain why they want to.

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